Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Business Is from Mars, Academia Is from Venus

Universities are showing increasing interest in stretching their work into the "Valley of Death" to move their discoveries towards treatments. Companies are rethinking their alliances with universities as sources of innovation to fill their pipelines, beyond traditional sponsored research agreements. At the Partnering for Cures meeting in November, experts discussed where such rethinking is taking place, the replicability and scalability of these models, and the challenges of this new type of relationship.

Moderator Ross DeVol, Milken Institute, noted that innovation is increasingly shifting to universities and, with that, new thinking and practices are developing to ensure that these efforts advance outcomes without distorting academia's core mission.

Annette Kleiser, University of Southern California Stevens Institute for Innovation explained that "making innovations, or I should say inventions, available to the public has become a critical part of what we do."

Pfizer's Tony Coyle pointed out that the wealth of academic understanding and expertise cannot be kept siloed in the usual few organizations. The divide between basic science and clinical practice is where we should be focusing, he pointed out, with the patient's needs always at the center. Coyle suggested industry look to its colleagues in academia to help reflect on what the true unmet medical needs are, and what opportunities exist to design therapeutics that are fundamentally different from the existing standard of care. "We don't need to be so insular," he said. "Success in medicine or chemistry alone will not allow us to develop new therapeutics that are truly meaningful and will have an impact on patients."

Stephen Friend, Sage Bionetworks, who professed himself a "galactic traveler" - having spent a third of his career in Venus/academia, another in Mars/industry and the last "on Earth with the patient" - talked about the need for new models to support all of the data and information that is starting to flow. The linear drug development pipeline is no longer, he said, and industry is "quite awake" to the fact that the old models aren't going to work.

Kleiser described why academia needs private industry: "We need the insight from the industry on how to turn these discoveries into a product. We need the exchange of data, and we need this exchange of expertise." She went on to give an example of a partnership USC has entered into with Johnson & Johnson and how the flexible nature of their IP agreement has opened up new pathways for innovation.

Fernando Kreutz, FK-Biotec, discussed his perspective on Brazil as a blank slate for medical research. "Innovation requires industry," he said. "In Brazil most of the science is actually done inside of universities. How can we channel all of this knowledge into innovation? That's the biggest challenge in Brazil right now."

Todd Sherer, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, talked about what patients could do to help improve outcomes and ensure that development partnerships remain focused on meeting the needs of people with disease. "We do see the model changing in terms of understanding that one entity cannot solve all these diseases." While there is an openness for these collaborations, there are also competing goals and reward structures between industry and academia. Patient organizations can provide a neutral "playing field," allowing partners to come together in a safe space without the complications of either side having a home-field advantage.

Friend then talked about the power of data, and, in particular, the power of patient ownership of data when it comes to sharing and generating information for research. He highlighted several of Sage's projects including The Clinical Trial Comparator Arm Project, a precompetitive disease biology initiative, which is working to push comparator arm data of clinical trials in a variety of therapeutic areas into the public domain .

Recently, Pfizer and the University of California San Francisco began a revolutionary partnership which Coyle discussed. Aimed at more rapidly moving new therapies into human clinical trials, teams from the University and Pfizer work together on experimental therapies developed by the UCSF scientists with a goal of testing them in people with five hard-to-treat, often deadly conditions, including lung and prostate cancer."This is not collaboration from afar, but an example of working together with people that are striving for the same thing. Physically being located in the same lab starts trust, and builds this new ecosystem relationship. Academia cannot do it on its own, and the same goes for pharmaceutical companies."

In closing the panelists discussed the one thing they would change in the current environment. Kruetz said, "The one thing I would change is the lack of urgency in academia. It is shocking." Friend made the point that the scientist, the academic institution and industry work pretty well together. It is the patients that are missing. "Until earth joins Mars and Venus, it's not going to work."

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